By Tulis McCall
Theatre is a temple. We go there to open our hearts and let them be touched by someone or something unexpected. We willingly place ourselves in a seat and hope for the best. With “New York, New York” – the BEST is what is delivered.
This is a Susan Stroman production from the start. Everyone (almost) dances as if they were trying to fly, and they sing as if speaking were a secondary means of communication.
The time is Manhattan in 1946 and 1947. The situation was very much like it is today. New Yorkers were recovering from years of being at war. Just like we are today. And, damn, if the opening scene alone is enough to make the entire audience swoon at the idea of visiting THAT New York. Between the music, the costumes, the dancers and the set that feels like it is engulfing us – well, you get the picture.
We are pulled into the story of Jimmy Doyle (Colton Ryan is astonishing), Francine Evans (Anna Uzele glows) and Tommy Caggiano (Clyde Alves surprises us all with his extraordinary dance moves). The two guys are best friends. Jimmy is in search of work as a musician, and we never find out much about Tommy except that he is an all around cheerleader. Francine is just in from Philadelphia, and she is looking for work as a singer. But first she needs a place to live, and it just so happens that Jimmy knows a woman who needs a renter so….
This is not a show remotely based on reality. It is a fantasy musical – like all the Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire musicals combined. Jimmy and Francine fall in love for no particular reason. They fall hard and fast. The fact that Francine is black is glossed over so many times it becomes a running chuckle worthy of an Oscar Levant comment. Jimmy has a drinking problem that he ends in an instant with no apparent relapses or difficulties. Francine gets a job singing in a tiny restaurant and is discovered by a British producer, Gordon McKendrick (Ben Davis), who has more than music on his mind. A first generation Cuban, Mateo Diaz (Angel Sigala) has dreams of playing in a club, tempered by an abusive father and the fact that he is gay. A WWII Vet, Jesse Webb (John Clay III), shares similar dreams and is dealing with the fact that he is a black man peeling potatoes in a restaurant kitchen.
Everybody wants something – it is a veritable grocery list of hopes and dreams. And none of them are realistic. That is okay with me. You want realism? No problem. Go to a different show. Musicals (and opera and symphonies and a boatload of artwork for that matter) were never intended to be realistic. They were intended to create magic and hand it over to us that we might be reminded of our own magic livinig within us.
Whence comes all this music? From a variety of sources, I have been told. “Flora The Red Menace,” “The Rink,” “Funny Lady,” and of course “New York, New York.” In addition there are a few written by Kander and Miranda as well as Kander as a solo. But these attributes are not specified in the program so I will leave it to you to identify the sources.
“Cheering for Me Now”
“A Major Chord”
“Better Than Before”
“One of the Smart Ones”
“Wine and Peaches”
“I Love Music”
“My Own Music”
“I’m What’s Happening Now”
“A Simple Thing Like That”
“Can You Hear Me?”
“Happy Endings/Let’s Hear it for Me”
“Along Comes Love”
“San Juan Supper Club”
“A Quiet Thing”
“A Simple Thing Like That”
“Sorry I Asked”
“But The World Goes ‘Round”
“Music, Money, Love”
“New York, New York”
For a couple of hours I was lifted into a world where characters lived one song or dance at a time. Everything came together in a spectacuclar finale that brought the audience to its feet. When all was said done I felt as if I had changed on some molecular level. I left the theatre lighter, looser and appreciative of this town and the hard working stiffs who make it sing.
I believe this is what the creative team intended. Mission accomplished.
When this cast album comes out I will be first in line.
New York, New York – Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb; Written by David Thompson; Co-Written by Sharon Washington; Additional Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda; Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman
Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele, Clyde Alves, John Clay III, Janet Dacal, Ben Davis, Oliver Prose, Angel Sigala, Emily Skinner. The ensemble includes Wendi Bergamini, Allison Blackwell, Giovanni Bonaventura, Jim Borstelmann, Lauren Carr, Mike Cefalo, Bryan J. Cortés, Kristine Covillo, Gabriella Enriquez, Haley Fish, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Richard Gatta, Stephen Hanna, Naomi Kakuk, Akina Kitazawa, Ian Liberto, Kevin Ligon, Leo Moctezuma, Aaron Nicholas Patterson, Alex Prakken, Dayna Marie Quincy, Julian Ramos, Drew Redington, Benjamin Rivera, Vanessa Sears, Davis Wayne, Jeff Williams, Darius Wright.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK features scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Donna Zakowska, lighting design by Ken Billington, sound design by Kai Harada, projection design by Christopher Ash and Beowulf Boritt, hair & wig design by Emmy Award winner Sabana Majeed, music supervision and arrangements by Sam Davis, orchestrations by Daryl Waters and Sam Davis, vocal arrangements by David Loud, music direction by Alvin Hough, Jr.